I came across this citation in the OED entry1 for fag (4th meaning, "a knot in cloth"):

1464 Act. 4 Edw. IV, c. i, ― En cas que ascune autiel diversite ou Rawe, Skawe, cokell ou fagge, aveigne destre en ascun part des ditz draps.

I think that refers to an act of law as opposed to a play but, either way, what language is that? Presumably some variant of English but which? It seems far closer to French than modern English. What I understand of it, I glean from French and Spanish. My English doesn't help at all.

So, what is this English (?) called? Based on the year, I assume it must come under the general heading of Middle English, but I can make far less sense of it that I can of, for example, the Canterbury Tales. Is this a different language? Not Middle English at all?

1 Available here, if you have access.

  • Thus, since this about a sentence in French, I'm not sure it's on topic. Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 15:38
  • 8
    @AlanCarmack Let's not be legalistic. This is about English. To consider this off-topic is to ignore thought.
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 15:41
  • 2
    @AlanCarmack the question is basically asking i) what dialect of English is this weird language (to which the answer, apparently, is that it isn't English at all) and ii) what is it doing in the OED. Both are on topic, including the first since, at the time of asking, I was assuming that it was a form of English.
    – terdon
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 15:46
  • This is section V (2) of the Cloths, Trade, etc. Act 1464. In the English version the full subsection read "(2) and in case any such difference or raw or skaw cokel or fagge happen to be in any part of the said cloths, streits, or kerseys, that then a seal of lead, and by the treasurer of England for the time being provided, shall be set and hanged in the lowest part of the said cloth, streit, or kersey, for perfect knowledge to be had to the buyer thereof" which in effect says that faults in cloth being sold should be marked with lead to draw attention to them.
    – Henry
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 0:38
  • Thank you @Henry for providing the translation. I was wondering if this was also the first use of ditz as in ditzy.
    – ab2
    Commented Nov 26, 2016 at 2:30

1 Answer 1


It's Law French, the normal language of law in England until well after 1464.

The words Rawe, Skawe, cokell [and] fagge are evidently English words, not French ones, presumably either because there weren't corresponding French terms (at least in Law French), or because it was important to cover every case in this statute.

So, while the rest of the text is in Legal French, it still serves as a valid example of the usage of the English word fag since this is an English use of an English word in an English law for English people. That the rest of the law happens to be writtren in French doesn't change this.

  • 2
    I assume it is because this is the earliest known example of the English word 'fag' in this sense. The fact that it is in a non-English sentence doesn't change this.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 15:19
  • 5
    This is not a French use! This is an English use of an English word in an English law for English people. The language of the law at the time was Law French, but it used that English word.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 15:23
  • 2
    @AlanCarmack I think the most important point is that this was a language used to set English laws in England at a time when the line between English and French was a good deal more blurry than it is today.
    – terdon
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 15:50
  • 3
    @AlanCarmack I'm sure that's true, but the language known as "English" today is heavily influenced by both the "native" and "conqueror" tongues. So it still seems reasonable to call it English, of a sort. No less than the 'native' language, anyway.
    – terdon
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 16:41
  • 3
    Before you dismiss Norman French entirely, it is still used in Parliament to show the monarch's assent (La Reine le veult) and when sending bills to 'the other place'. Viz. page nine of this document on parliamentary tradition Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 16:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.